Thursday, January 3, 2019

On Blu-ray/DVD: BAYOU CAVIAR (2018) and THE SUPER (2018)

(US/China - 2018)

In the late '90s and into the early 2000s, movies like CHILL FACTOR, SNOW DOGS, BOAT TRIP, and RADIO managed to successfully squander any momentum Cuba Gooding Jr. had after winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1996's JERRY MAGUIRE. He floundered in the world of straight-to-DVD for the better part of the next decade and a half, generally regarded as a worst-case scenario of the myth of the "Oscar curse," though it's safe to say THE PIANIST's Adrien Brody has usurped the title from him by now. Gooding occasionally managed to nab supporting roles in A-list productions like AMERICAN GANGSTER and THE BUTLER, but he finally enjoyed a bit of a career resurgence with his acclaimed, Emmy-nominated turn as the defendant on FX's 2016 limited series AMERICAN CRIME STORY: THE PEOPLE VS. O.J. SIMPSON. With the sleazy New Orleans noir BAYOU CAVIAR, the 51-year-old Gooding not only stars but makes his writing and directing debut and, right on schedule, the momentum of his PEOPLE VS. O.J. SIMPSON comeback comes to a screeching halt. Over-plotted and unfocused, the absurd BAYOU CAVIAR has some potentially interesting ideas and intriguing twists, but Gooding and co-writer Eitan Gorlin just can't pull it together, the film tripping over itself with a surplus of extraneous characters and go-nowhere subplots that are abandoned as soon as they're introduced.

Gooding is Rodney Jones, a one-time Olympic silver-medalist boxer who's fallen on hard times and is now a bouncer at a New Orleans club. The club's douchebag manager Rafi (Sam Thakur) mouths off to the owner one too many times, and when that owner is powerful Russian crime boss Yuri (Richard Dreyfuss), it's inevitable that Rafi is killed and his body chopped up and fed to the 50 alligators kept in a giant pond at Yuri's compound. Now in the non-negotiable employ of Yuri, Rodney is given an assignment: stage some incriminating photos of Isaac (Gregg Bello), the lawyer son-in-law of Yuri's Jewish attorney Schlomo (Ken Lerner). The aging Schlomo wants to retire to Israel with his wife and has been preparing Isaac to take over his duties, but Yuri only trusts Schlomo and doesn't want to lose him. In the meantime, Rodney makes the acquaintance of Kat (Lia Marie Johnson, who has a strong resemblance to Miley Cyrus, which might've been inspired casting if she wasn't way out of this film's price range), a young woman who lives with her shut-in, bayou trash mother and green card-seeking Mexican stepdad and dreams of being the next Kardashian-esque reality TV/social media star. Brainstorming for a way to put Kat on the map, Rodney talks his photographer friend Nic (Famke Janssen), who has a history of being sexually inappropriate with her clients, into shooting a sex tape. They've got the perfect patsy with Isaac, who's introduced pouting when his pregnant wife doesn't want to have sex, and who happens to be Kat's mother's landlord. Kat ends up seducing Isaac and Nic, hiding in Kat's closet, captures it all on video, but no one involved--Rodney, Nic, or Isaac--is aware that Kat is only 16 years old.

Yuri wants the tape but all hell breaks loose with a series of double-crosses--including Kat's stepdad trying to blackmail Isaac (which requires him stealing Nic's laptop in one of the most laughably contrived scenes in recent memory)--and time-killing plot detours, like Katherine McPhee as a married woman having a torrid lesbian fling with Nic, which serves no purpose other than Gooding wanting to see McPhee and Janssen make out. BAYOU CAVIAR sounds like it should be trashy fun, but Gooding treats the material much too seriously and with a far too heavy hand (Nic, complaining about a client accusing her of harassment, grumbles "Welcome to Trump's America" for no reason whatsoever). If Rodney and Nic were affable ne'er-do-wells haplessly getting in over their heads, say in a BIG LEBOWSKI kind-of way, BAYOU CAVIAR could've been an enjoyably tacky B-movie, but only Dreyfuss seems to recognize the material as the swamp-dwelling junk that it is, hamming it up with a garbled Russian accent in his few brief appearances. Gooding doesn't even have the sense to exploit the completely bonkers idea--straight out of Tobe Hooper's EATEN ALIVE--of Yuri having 50 flesh-hungry alligators on his property. If you've got an gator-infested pond and Dreyfuss chewing on a dubious accent, ready and willing to gorge himself on the scenery like it's a pot full of steaming borscht and you don't take advantage of that, then what's the point? (Unrated, 111 mins)

(US - 2018)

Like Cuba Gooding Jr., Val Kilmer had it pretty good in the 1990s. His iconic performance as Doc Holliday in 1993's TOMBSTONE even gave him a catchphrase in "I'm your Huckleberry" that was quoted almost as much as Gooding's "Show me the money!" from JERRY MAGUIRE. And like Gooding, Kilmer's career precipitously nosedived with a series of box-office flops like AT FIRST SIGHT, RED PLANET, THE SALTON SEA, WONDERLAND, and SPARTAN. But unlike Gooding, who seems like a genuinely good guy and remained well-liked by his peers even as his star dimmed, the abrasive Kilmer torched almost every bridge on his way down, with his mercurial, bullying behavior on the set of 1996's THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU the stuff of Hollywood legend, and so beyond the pale that even Marlon Brando--no stranger to causing all sorts of calamity and hostility on a movie set--had to step up and tell his younger co-star to take it down a notch. Like Gooding, Kilmer has spent the bulk of the 2000s and onward lost in the world of straight-to-DVD paycheck gigs, their paths inevitably crossing in 2009's HARDWIRED. Luck didn't seem to be on Kilmer's side when he did manage to land a major-studio job--he proved surprisingly adept at comedy in Shane Black's 2005 masterpiece KISS KISS BANG BANG, and he was fun as megalomaniacal supervillain Dieter Von Cunth in 2010's MACGRUBER, but Warner Bros barely released KISS KISS and nobody went to see MACGRUBER. Around 2006, Kilmer began appearing in some truly awful films (PLAYED, MOSCOW ZERO, THE CHAOS EXPERIMENT, AMERICAN COWSLIP, and several ill-advised collaborations with one-time BFF 50 Cent) and was as relentlessly busy as Nicolas Cage is today. But his appearances at your nearest Redbox kiosk tapered off around 2014 and speculation about his health became a popular tabloid subject after he was repeatedly seen in public with large, bulky scarves covering his neck. In 2017, after repeatedly denying rumors that he was gravely ill, Kilmer finally fessed up and revealed that he'd been battling throat cancer for two years. His voice reduced to a raspy whisper, Kilmer returned to acting with a small role in the 2017 bomb THE SNOWMAN, unconvincingly and distractingly dubbed by someone who sounded nothing like him.

Given the condition of his voice, it's likely that the now-59-year-old Kilmer will be dubbed in all future projects going forward (he's in the TOP GUN sequel currently in production), much like the beloved British actor Jack Hawkins in the last decade of his career, when throat cancer robbed him of his voice and actors Charles Gray and Robert Rietty were called upon to expertly mimic him until his death in 1973. As in THE SNOWMAN, the person dubbing Kilmer in THE SUPER makes no effort to sound like him, giving him a thick Ukrainian accent as a voodoo-practicing building super in a Manhattan high-rise. Notable as a rare big-screen (or, least VOD) project for producer and LAW & ORDER creator Dick Wolf, THE SUPER stars Patrick John Flueger (of Wolf's NBC series CHICAGO P.D.) as Phil, a widower ex-cop who quit the force following his wife's death in a fire so he could take care of their daughters, Violet (Taylor Richardson), now 14 and rebelling, and Rose (Mattea Marie Conforti), now 7 and a daddy's girl. Phil gets a job as a super at the building, working with weirdo Walter (Kilmer), who spends a lot of time chanting in the basement and creeping around Rose, and ladies man Julio (Yul Vazquez), whose services go above and beyond the janitorial for some of the more attractive female residents.

Building manager Mr. Johnson (Paul Ben-Victor) is doing his best to ignore the string of disappearances from the high-rise, and the cop in Phil is sure that Walter is behind it, even framing him by planting evidence--the handle of a cane belonging to an elderly tenant who's gone missing--in his apartment. But there's clearly something more going on than a mere serial killer, including Phil suffering from horrific dreams of the victims, Rose repeatedly wandering off in a trance and staring at the boiler, and the possibility that obvious red herring Walter's chants and spells are being deployed to ward off something supernatural. Written by John L. McLaughlin (BLACK SWAN) and directed by German filmmaker Stephan Rick, THE SUPER opens big with a very nicely-done 13-minute prologue that could function as a stand-alone short film, and after establishing Kilmer's Walter as a total creep in what's shaping up to be a throwback to a '90s "(blank) from Hell" thriller, it pulls the rug out from under you, especially with a third-act twist so ridiculous in its Shyamalanian chutzpah that you can't help but shrug and roll with it. It's not necessarily a very good movie, and the ending lands on the side of unsatisfying, but it has enough good moments to qualify it as decent guilty pleasure material, and it's twisty enough that it probably would've been a huge hit in theaters 15-20 years ago. (R, 89 mins)